As analysed during these weeks of course, Charities that work to support people with disabilities often use adverts to portray them as individuals with special needs, unable to be independent or to have a productive role in Society.
This is easily explained if we consider the research conducted by Miller, Jones and Ellis, who found out that the audience is more willing to donate money if their prejudices find confirmation in those ads, so they can feel sympathy for the portrayed people rather than empathy and that a sense of guilt is a powerful stimulus, too.
However, as they pointed out into their “Group differences in response to charity images of children with Down syndrome”, “One initially depressing finding showed that the general public would be more likely to donate on seeing the more traditional, `guilt-evoking’ poster. However, a closer analysis revealed that this group was actually the least likely of all the groups to donate money: those groups who were most likely to donate showed a slight preference in favour of the less stereotyped poster. Thus it is concluded that charities who are looking for donations do not need to rely on feelings of pity and guilt; and in fact, for reasons of both fund-raising and consciousness-raising, would do better to use images which are positive and non-stigmatising” (Miller, Jones, Ellis, 1993).
If we analyse the two posters used for this Study, one from Mencap and the other created by the Down Syndrome Association
Miller, Jones and Ellis , the two charity posters used in the study, ‘Kevin’ from Mencap and ‘David’ from the Down Syndrome Association, 1993. ©1996-2017 Down Syndrome Education International
we can easily observe the differences between the visual languages used and the texts reinforcing their message: one shows children affected by Down Syndrome as victims with no future, and only a small caption stigmatizes, then, this way to think at disability, while the second has less negative connotations, showing a different approach to this condition rather than “exhibit” a helpless child.
Here, we could see different kinds of messages related to the same topic, but are there differences in the use of language and images when we have to confront Charities’ adverts related to physical disabilities and psychological problems or disorders?
Since the “victimization” of disabled people in ads has been extensively discussed in the last two decades, I would like to consider and compare those ones that do not try to instill in the audience’s minds the idea that people with disabilities are hopeless and must be saved thanks to our supposed “superiority”.
A humorous attempt to convey a different message has been made by George & Dragon, the Agency that created the Campaign “H.I.D.E., End the Awkward for Scope in 2016.
Jim Gilchrist, Scope’s 2016 TV advert for End the Awkward campaign, 2016. ©Scope, UK
In this video, we can’t see any stigmatisation of the disability rather than the derision of the sense of embarrassment that often people demonstrate when they have to deal with the diversity. The message is clear: don’t hide yourself, don’t be afraid of doing or saying something wrong, just behave normally, since you are meeting a person like another. In fact, when the characters finally find out this matter of fact, they feel relieved and they start introducing themselves.
The roles, here, are inverted: what is commonly considered as different shows that the not normal thing is the reaction of those non-disabled people who can’t properly face a situation.
But what about those adverts related to psychological conditions, such as anxiety disorder, depression or social phobia? Can the message be conveyed in the same way? Probably not, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t find a positive attitude in those adverts related to this topic, too.
Mind, Mental Health: In our words, 2014. ©Mind, UK
In this video, 13 people talk about what is like to live with different types of mental health problems, what the worse things are, how they face their situation and what helped them.
Again, here we don’t see victims: we can simply observe common people speaking about their problems, not to obtain viewers’ sympathy, rather than to make us deeper empathise with them, to make us understand how they finally found out they were not alone, just like anyone of the audience who might be experiencing the same situation. Same as for physical disabilities, it’s something they (WE, I have to include myself) have to cope with and they must find out how to productively proceed with their existences not avoiding their condition or hiding, but facing it, supporting each other and telling their stories.
They don’t mask their pain but, at the same time, they show the audience how they became “fighters” every single day and the firm and calm language, their positivity and constructive attitude pervade our souls while we listen to them and look at their faces.
They hold the situation, they put themselves into play in order to support others and, becoming Mind’s campaigners, they demonstrated everyone that they are not victims: they are helpers.
Confronting the two adverts, we see that the language used is completely different, but we can also see that a more positive attitude in discussing psychological disorders and learning or physical disabilities is possible and that the power of the message is not affected by it, but reinforced.
Jardine Alexandra, End the Awkward, HIDE, on Creativity Online, September 2016 http://creativity-online.com/work/scope-hide/49104
Miller BY, Jones RSP, Ellis NC. Group differences in response to charity images of children with Down syndrome. Down Syndrome Research and Practice. 1993;1(3);118-122.
Miller BY, Jones RSP, Ellis NC. Group differences in response to charity images of children with Down syndrome. Abstract of the Study published by Down Syndrome Educational Online website in 2017. © 1996-2017 Down Syndrome Education International. https://www.down-syndrome.org/reports/22/?page=1
Mind, Official website http://www.mind.org.uk/
Mind, Official YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/user/MindWebteam
Scope, About the disability, Official website https://www.scope.org.uk/end-the-awkward